After complaints of students and an athletics department staff member at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, the school fired softball coach Michael Lotief on Wednesday.
The university, in a news release, said Lotief violated school and University of Louisiana System policies by allegedly subjecting student-athletes and co-workers to "violent, vulgar language and verbal and physical assault, creating a hostile learning and working environment."
Louisiana-Lafayette's president, Dr. Joseph Savoie, said such behavior will not be tolerated and he commended those who came forward.
Dr. Bryan Maggard, the school's athletics director, said a national search to replace Lotief will begin immediately.
Lotief, who has been on leave since Oct. 6, denied the allegations during a news conference later Wednesday.
"It's surreal, how unfactual it's been. It's totally untrue," Lotief told reporters as many of his players sat behind him in support.
Lotief's attorneys, Jack McElligott and Glenn Edwards, said they believe his dismissal stems from his advocacy for gender equality in athletics at Louisiana-Lafayette.
"This matter arose out of a passionate discussion between Coach Lotief and several other persons within the university's athletic department wherein he complained of gender equality issues adversely affecting UL's female athletes, specifically the softball team. In response to a complaint of at least one participant in that conversation, Coach Lotief was immediately placed on administrative leave even though the written statements obtained about the conversation present completely divergent descriptions of what occurred," Edwards said.
Lotief, who has battled throat cancer for more than 30 years and has had a tracheotomy, denied ever having been involved in a physical confrontation in his life.
"Having a trach and not being able to breathe and a tube in my stomach, pretty much prevents me from physical confrontations," he said. "The allegation is that I poked someone in the shoulder, which seems like a very liberal interpretation of physical assault."
As for the alleged verbal confrontation, Lotief said he's not an angel or a saint and sometimes has a loose tongue, but added, "That's a stretch. I'd even go so far as to say it's a lie."
Edwards said the university's actions marked "a sad day for my alma mater."
He said the university had "completely mishandled a situation that results in the smearing of a family's reputation. Not only the Lotiefs, but Coach Lotief has been advised that many or all of his entire staff members are being terminated today as well."
The university, in a separate statement, said it had dismissed softball assistant coach Chris Malveaux and video coordinator Kate Malveaux, effective immediately. The dismissals were to "allow the new coach to assemble their team," the statement said.
Lotief and his attorneys said it was too soon to say whether they would pursue legal remedies.
Lotief, whose career coaching record is 729-174, had led the Cajuns to five straight NCAA Super Regionals between 2012 and 2016, claimed seven NCAA Regional titles, made three trips to the Women's College World Series (2003, 2008, 2014), routinely has his teams nationally ranked and has won a dozen Sun Belt Conference tournament titles.
Lotief, who has battled throat cancer for more than three decades, originally joined the program as a volunteer coach in 2001, became co-head coach with his wife, Stefni, from 2002-2012 before taking over as sole coach in 2013.
The team went 47-8 last season, winning the Sun Belt Conference title.
The Ragin' Cajuns open up the 2018 season on Feb. 8 against Samford